Of all the many and varied unknown creatures that are said to inhabit our planet – such as Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, and the Chupacabra – perhaps the most chilling ones are not those that lurk in dense, faraway forests, in remote and expansive jungles, and on distant icy mountains. The ones that we should really be wary of are those that live practically under our very noses. It’s one thing to read accounts of extraordinary animals and rampaging monsters in faraway, exotic environments. It’s quite another thing, however, to have such monstrosities almost lurking on our doorsteps. But, incredibly, there are far more than a few reports on record of terrifying beasts seen deep in the hearts of our towns and cities. To be sure, it’s a chilling thought that, as we sleep, menacing beasts may be roaming around our very own neighborhoods. All of this brings me to a certain, memorable affair that absolutely defines the “monsters are among us” scenario.
I grew up only about seven or eight miles from the English city of Birmingham. It’s a city that, in recent years, has been significantly transformed, in terms of new buildings, modernization, and expansion. But, much of the old, historic Birmingham still remains. In Medieval times Birmingham was a market-town, but came to prominence in the 18th century, with what became known as the Industrial Revolution. All of which brings us to the matter of Birmingham’s extensive network of centuries-old canals.
Collectively known as the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) the canals of Birmingham run for miles and miles. At the heart of the canals of Birmingham – both geographically and historically – is what is called the Gas Street Basin. It’s a famous landmark where the Worcester and Birmingham Canal crosses paths with the BCN Main Line. But, for our purposes, it’s not so much the canal itself that’s important. Rather, it’s what is said to lurk within the Gas Street waters and its surroundings that counts.
In his book, A Manifestation of Monsters, Dr. Karl Shuker states of the Gas Street Basin: “In 1997, these waterways were said to be home to a gargantuan eel, variously dubbed the Gas Street Monster…It was described by one angler eyewitness as being black in color, ‘with little beady eyes,’ and up to 20 feet long..." The reason I mention this is because I grew up quite close to Karl, and, as Karl knows, I too was the recipient of a number of reports of huge – and potentially dangerous - eels in the canals of Birmingham, some of which dated back to the 1980s. Of course, the average eel is nothing to be concerned about. When you’re on the receiving end of reports of violent eels fifteen feet long and more, however – as I was – then that changes things a bit. To say the very least!
Collectively, over the years, I have secured nine separate and distinct reports of giant eels deep in the heart of the canals of the city of Birmingham, only one of which was from the Gas Street Basin. The others were from different parts of “Brum” (which is the city’s famous nickname), some even up to three miles from Gas Street. This, of course, suggests the creatures had – and maybe continue to have – significantly sized territories in which to roam.
One particularly memorable report came to me from the employees of a plumbing company that backed onto a stretch of the Birmingham canal network. It was the late 1980s when, while on their lunch-hour and as they threw pieces of bread to the local, resident, ducks, they were shocked to see a large creature swimming along in the water. It was obviously an eel, but one of massive proportions. And it was clearly keeping those aforementioned beady eyes on the ducks. Fortunately for the ducks, none of them were dragged beneath the waters in Jaws-style: the eel, after a few minutes, vanished to the deeper levels of the canal and was lost from sight. It was a story that became part and parcel of the “Gas Street Monster” lore.
Another report, a far more sinister one, was given to me approximately half a decade ago. However, it involved events reputed to have occurred around the end of the 1970s or during the very earliest weeks or months of the 1980s. The location was the canal near Birmingham’s Rotten Park Road. It’s a place where, oddly, in 2003, the corpse of a fifteen-foot-long python was found, and then dragged out of the water by the Police and the RSPCA, the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. So the story went, on several occasions large eels were seen around Rotten Park Road - always very late at night, and by horrified witnesses, who saw the creatures stealthily and quietly exiting the water and briefly roaming around the local neighborhood. And, for those who may not know, eels are quite adept at leaving their watery environments behind them and moving on land. So the story went, the sightings of the giant eels coincided – time-wise – with the mysterious disappearances of a number of animals, including pet cats and rabbits.
As for the weird saga of the Rotten Park Road python, my best “guesstimate” is that this was someone’s pet which grew to a size where it became unmanageable and was then callously dumped to fend for itself in the canal. Unfortunately, and unlike an eel, a python would stand no chance of surviving the cold water of an English canal. So, I suggest that the lengthy presence of the eels and the very brief presence of the python - in the same stretch of water - was due to nothing more than a coincidence. Albeit, admittedly, a very strange one!
I guess, from my perspective, the most disturbing (and, I have to admit, exciting) aspect of all this is not just the fact that giant, monstrous eels of unprecedented sizes might exist, but that they may be doing so right in the heart of civilization. In locations – such as the huge, sprawling, city of Birmingham, England – where hundreds of thousands of people go about their daily routines, blissfully unaware of the monsters that lurk among them.